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 Progress: A movement toward a goal or to a further or higher stage: the progress of a student toward a degree. –

About 8,000 South Dakota public high school seniors are walking across the graduation stage this month to applause, whistles and cheers.

The glow from the faces of proud parents light up the auditoriums.

My dad never made it that far. Neither did his dad.

Back then, it wasn’t uncommon to leave school after the eighth grade.

The U.S. Department of Education says the graduation rate in 1910 was 8.8 percent. In 1930, 29 percent. By 1950, it had climbed to 59 percent.

Today, U.S. students are graduating from high school at an 82 percent clip, a higher rate than ever before, according to the education department.

In South Dakota, the picture is even brighter. Using a four-year basis, 84 percent are graduating, and when extra time is factored in for some students, the percentage climbs to 90.


“We would like it to be higher, but our rate has been steady, with a slight uptick,” said Mary McCorkle, a teacher with 34 years in the classroom, mostly in the Mobridge/Pollock district, and now president of the S.D. Education Association.

There’s still work to be done, of course.

If nine of 10 freshmen from four years ago are graduating this month as seniors, what happened to the one student who’s missing?

The Everyone Graduates Center and Civic Enterprises, both funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, list four major reasons why some teens drop out.

— A minority couldn’t meet academic requirements.

— Pregnancy, jail time, or work to support families.

— Boredom or disillusionment.

— The fourth reason? Some said they didn’t feel welcome at school.

Sandra Waltman, the SDEA’s director of government relations and communications, offered this insight:

“There are a lot of reasons kids drop out. Home life. They are struggling.”

And yes, drugs.

“It’s a problem,” Waltman said.

Although South Dakota’s graduation rate is strong, more progress is needed. American Indians are graduating at a 51 percent rate, according to the state’s report. Hispanics are at 73 percent, and blacks, 77 percent.

Improving the rate for American Indians “has to be a multi-faceted approach,” said Waltman, one that involves entire communities, not just the schools.

McCorkle said the state Legislature in 2016 established some programs to begin to provide opportunities for innovation for schools near reservations.

“As a state we need to work on it. All kids deserve the best education regardless of where they live. There is a recognition that there is work to be done.”

May 17, 2017